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On March 13, the leadership of Chapelwood made the decision to close the buildings of our church based on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Texas Medical Center (TMC), and state/local government (Governor Abbott’s disaster proclamation on March 13 came alongside warnings from local leaders). Since that time, we have not had any gatherings on any of our campuses. But just because the building has been closed that doesn’t mean Chapelwood has been “closed’! Here are some of the things we have been doing as of May 28:
The church is very much “open” and active. But we haven’t been able to gather together in person.
A few weeks ago, I formed a Regathering Task Force made of members who have specialized skills to assist us in making sure we regather in safe ways during this COVID-19 pandemic. We have doctors, lawyers, and preachers…sounds like the start of a joke, right? I want to give you a detailed update of where we are and how we are looking to regather. I have been on weekly calls with state and local government officials and the heads of the Texas Medical Center. I have been in regular contact with Dr. Marc Boom, President and CEO of Houston Methodist, to ask for his input on all our plans and programming. Dr. Boom is on a daily call with the heads of TMC which is comprised of 42 of the leading medical organizations in the world.
So what will regathering look like and when will we see it start?
Phase 1 - We craft a health and safety protocol for our STAFF to return to work and we procure the necessary items and equipment needed. This phase is pretty much complete! Our task force helped refine our protocols for staff, we trained by Zoom, and we had our first staff gathering this past Tuesday to begin to train for regathering. We will meet again next Tuesday to continue our work. Our facilities team and custodial team are securing the supplies and equipment we need to make sure the proper sanitation can occur for participants and for the spaces we use. We have most of that in place and the rest will arrive very soon.
Phase 2 - Allowing small groups to regather on campuses. The first step is to set up safe spaces and procedures for small groups to gather together on our campuses. Rooms will be reserved and the set-up of the room will be done in advance to provide adequate physical distancing. The rooms will also offer Zoom mobile capability in case your entire group cannot meet on site. The rooms assigned will be based on the size of groups that want to meet. Some groups may continue to meet only by Zoom, but this will offer others to meet together on campus. Protocols are being finalized and will be shared with each group before they come on campus. We will be following the guidelines of the CDC, TMC, and federal/state/local government on our policies. We anticipate being able to offer small groups gatherings on campus the week of June 10.
Phase 3 - Worship gatherings. Criss-crossing traffic in large venues involves more risk, so we are hard at work developing plans for regathering on Sunday mornings. The Regathering Task Force will finalize a date for worship to regather in our meeting next week, but I remain hopeful that we will see some opportunities for us to worship together on site in the month of June. Just be aware that it will look and feel different. I will be sharing more details on how all that will work, what you need to do, and we will even produce some videos that will walk you through the entire process of what church during a pandemic looks like.
As the Church, we have things we consider in making our decisions that other businesses or groups may not consider in the same way. A business needs to open as quickly as possible to make money for the owners and employees. The Church can legally open anytime, but we want to consider the least and most vulnerable among us who will be coming to church. I encourage all of us to read 1 Corinthians again in this season. Paul teaches about how the community of faith lives together in unity in love - even when we don’t all agree together and when some among us may be weaker. He writes, “…all things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.” (1 Cor 10:23). And of course, 1 Corinthians 13 ends with that famous line, “…faith, hope, and love abide…but the greatest of these is love.”
Next week in both the social media updates and in the church emails I will begin to share the details of the many ways we will begin to regather at Chapelwood. We will move intentionally, safely, and in accordance with the guidelines of the medical leaders we have been leaning on since the beginning. I love you and pray you are well!
Rev. Dr. John E. Stephens
Chapelwood United Methodist Church
Houston, Texas 77024